Horror, Cult Movies, Exploitation Cinema, 70s Schlock, and more! Let’s start the weekend off by getting freaky! Or something like that…
“Spring eats Summer, Summer eats Fall, Fall eats Winter, Winter eats Spring.”
Genre: Witchy Horror
Year Released: 2022
411: Written and directed by the family trio of John Adams, Zelda Adams, and Toby Poser.
Where I Watched: Shudder
Synopsis: Izzy is a teenager living the vegan scavenger lifestyle deep in the woods with her mom. Really gorgeous modern house, beautifully styled…so why are they “roughing it” away from humanity? Izzy is dying to know. But as she tries to befriend another teen, the answer becomes pretty clear.
Fabulous or Frustrating?: No, the title of this film isn’t based on the salamander. It’s the name of Izzy and her mom’s band, though they don’t play for anyone but themselves. A mix of Raw and The Witch, if that story was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, this film is a mind-trip, but in a most excellent way. Like, totally y’all. (Don’t know why I’m writing like that, but let’s roll with it.) Hellbender mixes various types of witchcraft lore and cottagecore to create an interesting take on coming-of-age in the 21st century.
The teaming up of mother-daughter performers Zelda Adams and Toby Poser as Izzy and her mother bring a depth of feeling to their interactions. That’s a good thing for overall immersive storytelling, but mainly because these two are the only two onscreen for a hefty majority of screen time. Mother may hit the town to go shopping, and Izzy may run into people on her hikes, but mostly it’s the two of them trying to get by. Izzy desperately wanting to see more of the world, and Mother desperately hiding her from it. The back-and-forth between the two characters feels natural, even with all the supernatural trappings that surround them.
My only question; where does their money come from? That’s a really nice house, and it’s beautifully decorated in a modern style. Yeah it doesn’t seem that Mom has a job, but they’re never short on funds. Family inheritance? Who knows. Yeah, it’s not an important bit of exposition, but I kept thinking about it. Guess that’s what happens when you own a home; you immediately scope out everyone else’s. My bad.
The climax of the film is excellent, pairing mother/daughter rivalries and the supernatural in a way that makes this more a film about people who happen to be Other than a supernatural film in and of itself. I just wish that parting “BUGHUUL!” shot had been left on the cutting room floor; it’s a silly jump scare that’s out of place in this film. But it doesn’t ruin what’s come before, it only feels momentarily silly.
If you’re looking for a slow burn story that focuses on family dynamics as well as the spooky stuff? Here you go.
Freak-O-Meter: 4 out of 5 Freaks